Wayne Bennett unpaid, future uncertain

KNIGHTS COACH: Wayne Bennett.
KNIGHTS COACH: Wayne Bennett.

Knights coach Wayne Bennett wants to complete the remaining 18 months of his contract, but says he can't guarantee it will happen under new owners and management.

That should not be interpreted as a threat, Bennett indicated, but was merely a statement about the uncertainty surrounding the future of the club after the NRL condemned Knights owner Nathan Tinkler and his Hunter Sports Group for not paying players and staff on time.

''At this point I am, yeah, but as I said, that may not be in my control,'' Bennett said.

''That's what you don't know. If new owners come in, who knows?

''Who knows what contracts they're going to honour, so I can't say with any certainty at all that any of us know where we'll stand, whether it's [chief executive] Matt Gidley or 'Chief' (chairman Paul Harragon) or me or whoever.

''So until then you just get on with your job and take care of what you can control.

''In any new ownership model, who knows what's going to happen? We've got no idea.

''None of us have been informed about our positions or anything like that, so we'll just have to wait and see where it all goes.''

Bennett, whose four-year contract was reportedly with Tinkler rather than the Knights, was one of ''at least 20 [Newcastle] staff and players'' who were not paid their monthly salary on the due date last Thursday.

''The NRL will take whatever action is necessary to protect the Knights, the game and, most importantly, the players and staff as a result of these actions,'' NRL chief executive Dave Smith said in a statement issued on Friday night.

NRL head of club services Tony Crawford said ''the actions of the Tinkler-controlled Knights towards players and staff are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated''.

''The NRL has demanded that the situation is rectified immediately because there is no place in our game for this kind of behaviour,'' Crawford said.

It was not the first time Knights players and staff were not paid on time on HSG's watch, but as was the case on those occasions, Bennett told management that he was to be the last person paid under those circumstances.

Bennett addressed the wages crisis with players before training on Sunday, and believed only four or five players had not been paid. He understood they would be paid on Monday.

''What has been publicly aired already remains the situation, so nothing's changed in that regard,'' he said.

''We're all fine. I discussed it with everybody this morning, and most of them have been paid.

''They all understand what's happened and they've been told what's going to happen.

Although he had not been involved in negotiations between the NRL, HSG and the Knights Members Club aimed at settling the ownership dispute, Bennett expected a resolution sooner rather than later after the NRL issued such a damning statement last Friday.

''It's obviously coming to its conclusion. [HSG chief executive] Troy Palmer made that point the other day, that they've been talking for eight weeks or so now, so whether it comes this week or next week, it shouldn't be far off now,'' Bennett said.

''I think it's getting pretty close, but in saying that, we're not privy to that information.

''I haven't been privy to any of those conversations, or any of that information.

''My job is to coach, and coaching is what I do. They're administrators, and their job is to administer the club.''

Bennett said the players were not entitled to use the latest off-field drama as an excuse for a poor performance on the field against Manly at Brookvale Oval tonight.

''You're never completely confident about anything in football,'' he said.

''But I'm confident enough to know that most of the players have been paid, and another four or five know they will be paid, so it's not an issue for us that should prevent us from playing some decent football. If we don't play well, that won't be the reason.''

The Rugby League Players' Association wanted the NRL to ensure players were paid what they were owed and to put appropriate safeguards in place to protect future payments.

''It's a complicated situation but we welcome the commitment of the NRL to take whatever action is necessary to protect Knights players whose wages have not been paid,'' RLPA media and communications general manager Gennie Sheer said yesterday.

''We're working with the Knights players and providing help and support as needed in what is a stressful situation for those affected.

''Like any other worker in Australia, rugby league players are entitled to have their salary, superannuation, benefits and entitlements paid to them on time and in full.

''They also have the right to take whatever action is necessary to protect their livelihood, and the RLPA will continue to provide the assistance and advice they need to protect their rights.''

Sydney Morning Herald